“I’VE BEEN longing to study in Korea for years, and I finally got the opportunity to do it,” said Trinity Wood (Fresh., Global Basic Education Division), an American student who applied to study Korean Language and Literature at Yonsei University during the spring semester. Without her knowledge, however, she was suddenly placed under a completely different department called the Global Basic Education Division (GBED) and charged double the tuition fee that was specified in the admissions guidebook. Starting this semester, all incoming international students, like Wood, belong to GBED for their first year, despite the majors they selected during their application. Given that college life is vastly different in each country, Yonsei devised GBED intending to help international students adapt and prepare for academic life in Korea without impacting their actual majors before they move on in their sophomore year. However, the reality does not seem to reflect the school’s notable motives.
What is GBED?
In 2019, Yonsei University founded GBED under the Global Leadership College, a college comprised of only international students and overseas Koreans. Han Song-hwa, the Director of GBED, said, “We manage international students and, over their first year, prepare them with fundamental liberal arts and Korean courses before they enter their respective majors.” Han further explained that the establishment of the new division was necessary to protect international students who often have a hard time adapting to the harsh academic life in Korea. To help these students, the department offers Korean language courses exclusive to international students, along with the GLC Common Curriculum and GLC English, an English language class for non-English speakers. Besides academics, the division also offers other services such as airport pick-ups, Seoul city tours, and part-time job counseling. Unfortunately, it became apparent that the school did not wisely plan out GBED, leaving the international students in frustration.
What went wrong?
Although GBED was planned prior to Yonsei’s spring 2019 admissions, the school did not inform the incoming international students of the details regarding the new division. In the “Spring 2019 Application Guide for International Students” provided by Yonsei University on July 9, 2018, there are no details regarding GBED. Wood said, “I got an email that said ‘Welcome to GBED’ in January, which was after I paid the entrance deposit. I was lucky, though, because my friend did not get the email until the day the full tuition was due.” She also said that the school stopped providing English translations of all essential notices, such as schedules for course applications, once they were enrolled. In defense, Director Han explained that because most international students are not from English-speaking countries and do not have a strong understanding of English, GLC uses Korean as their primary language.
The sudden change in the status of international students also caused radical tuition fee hikes. Since GBED is under GLC, all GBED students are subject to GLC fees. The average GLC tuition fee per semester is around ₩6,500,000, which is almost double that of the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Social Sciences, Business and Economics. Director Han said, “Because GBED provides not only new courses but also tutors, teaching assistants, and other services, the increase in tuition fees is inevitable.” On the other hand, international students have said that the tuition fees are too expensive despite the programs GBED offers. Wood said, “My parents had to take money out of their retirement fund. If I knew about the tuition fees before applying to Yonsei, I wouldn’t have applied.” However, despite the expensive tuition fees, GBED did not provide any scholarship programs to help the students. To make matters worse, students were not able to apply for other financial aid or scholarships because GBED sent out late notices regarding the new department. “I was lucky because I was able to pay the higher tuitions, but a lot of my friends had to withdraw from Yonsei,” said Wood.
While GBED justifies the high tuition fees with exclusive courses for international students, those who are not as fluent in Korean cannot even enroll in those classes. Most of the courses in GBED are only open to students with TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) levels three and above. Those with TOPIK levels lower than three are subject to the Korean Language Institute (KLI) classes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. Wood said, “I couldn’t even enroll in Chapel, and I heard that it’s a requirement for graduation. It’s ridiculous because the fees for KLI is way below GBED tuitions.”
The student council has also criticized the school for its hasty preparation of the new division. In their official statement, FLOW, the 54th General Student Council, said that as Yonsei excluded the international students from discussing the specifics of GBED, those students were left vulnerable to all the confusion caused by their new department. International students also criticized the Dean of GBED, Cho Yong-soo, for mishandling the communication between GBED and its students. Wood said, “In the first meeting with the dean, he even admitted himself that GBED wasn’t thoroughly prepared. Then why did they have to put us in it in the first place?”
Fixing the problems
Taking matters into their own hands, international students have been fighting for improvements in their division since the start of the spring semester. Currently, GBED has started to provide English translations for the students. Wood said, “It took two months of complaining for them to finally start translating the notices. Since it’s literally the ‘Global’ Basic Education Division, they should have at least one translator, even if it’s just for the freshmen. It’s really frustrating.” Director Han also acknowledged that translating the notices for the students in more accessible languages should have been done from the very start.
Regarding the high tuition fees, GBED has started to take applications for Need-Based Scholarships since April 30. Han said, “International students also had to follow the previous scholarship system where they weren’t able to receive as much, compared to Korean students. We’ve now organized a scholarship program specifically for GBED students.” Han also said that the department will be preparing video-recorded lectures, as well as additional English taught courses and afternoon classes for those students who were not able to enroll in the GBED courses because of the language barriers and clashing schedules with KLI.
However, despite these promises of improvements for the upcoming semester, international students have demanded that the school take responsibility for how they treated the international students. Wood said, “In the first 2 to 3 weeks of school, everyone in GBED was so exhausted because we were fighting so hard just to be acknowledged and so that the school would be willing to talk to us.” Despite the concerns raised, international students stressed that they understand the good intentions behind GBED. Wood said, “I think it is a good idea. It shows that the school is trying to take care of us, but it should have been better prepared.”
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Known for its international college and a relatively large number of international students compared to other universities, Yonsei is indeed one of the most “globalized” universities in Korea. However, the status of GBED students does not fully reflect such an achievement and leaves much room for improvement. Frustrated, Wood said, “We gave up everything to come to this country and study at Yonsei, but I feel like they’re not taking us seriously because we are foreigners. I hope the students in the next semester and the coming years will have an easier time.”
*This article was written before the school announced the GBED tuition fee returns and reductions. A follow-up article has been released on our official website.